The Greens branch out on a more urban focus Political party has 300 U.S. affiliates

March 08, 1992|By Emilia Askari | Emilia Askari,Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- The mayor of Cordova, Alaska, is a Green. So are three members of the Madison, Wis., city council; two members of the Ithaca, N.Y., city council; and a former mayor of Yale, Mich.

A major factor in European politics for a decade, Green politics -- which stresses ecology, social justice, grass-roots democracy and non-violence -- is just taking hold on this side of the Atlantic.

This summer, as part of its national agenda, the U.S. Green Party is setting its sights on Detroit.

The Greens plan to deploy hundreds of volunteers from around the country in a four-week effort to improve the city's decaying social and physical environment.

Working with local social service agencies, the volunteers will be asked to clean alleys, refurbish abandoned homes and plant trees. They'll also learn about Detroit's history.

Fliers about the campaign, called Detroit Summer '92, describe the city as "a national symbol of urban devastation and drug-induced violence," adding, "We will put our hearts, minds, hands and imaginations together to build a city of Cooperation, Compassion, Community, Enterprise, and Participation."

City Council President Maryann Mahaffey called it "a great idea. I think it's marvelous to have people come here and help out, and in the process they improve the city's image."

Green Party members embraced the concept of Detroit Summer at their convention last summer. Each of about 300 party affiliates around the country is being asked to send people to Detroit during the last two weeks of June and first two weeks of July. Other volunteers also will be sought.

"We've gotten calls from students as far away as New Hampshire and Vermont," said Grace Boggs, a longtime Detroit activist and Green Party member. "It's just amazing how inspired people seem to be to do something for our cities."

One popular misconception about the Green Party is that it is only concerned about flora and fauna. Green leaders hope Detroit Summer will demonstrate their commitment to urban issues nationwide -- and spread the word that there is diversity in the party's ranks.

Green leaders estimate they have 200,000 to 300,000 sympathizers around the country, though only 3,000 are dues-paying members.

According to literature produced at party headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.: "The Green movement is based on timeless values: living in harmony with the land, its creatures and each other."

Greens typically advocate recycling, volunteerism, decentralization of government and disarmament -- although many don't agree with everything on the party's national agenda.

In the last year or so, as national polls have measured deep voter disaffection with incumbents and declared that nine of 10 Americans see themselves as environmentalists, Greens have registered a surge of interest.

This year, for the first time, the party is on the ballot in California; it has been on the ballot in Alaska for a year.

Since September, 30 local chapters have been founded nationally, bringing the number to "well over 300," said Charlie Betz, a member of the national party's organizing committee.

By billing their party as a viable alternative to business as usual, Greens have registered 90,000 Green voters in California and hundreds more in Alaska. Twenty-eight Greens have been elected to public office in 11 states.

Fred Fuller was elected mayor of Yale, Mich., in 1989 as a Republican, but he also considers himself a Green.

The Green Party line is "the first political coalition of ideas that I've really agreed with," Mr. Fuller, a free-lance writer, said in a recent interview. As mayor, he established Yale's first official recycling center and created a citizens advisory council to increase participation in government.

Mr. Fuller also spoke out against the Persian Gulf war, a move that he thinks cost him re-election last fall, when he ran as an independent.

There are many more Greens in Europe, where the first political organizations calling themselves Green sprang up in Belgium in the early 1980s.

Capitalizing on popular distrust of the NATO warheads in their back yards, pacifist Greens were elected to national office in more than half a dozen countries in the mid-1980s.

Since then, European Greens have lost ground at a time when their U.S. counterparts have been gaining. Part of the explanation offered by party members is that other European politicians have adopted key parts of the Green agenda. Another factor may be the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the lessened threat of nuclear war.

In this country, Green Party strategists hope to gain converts by appealing to people on the extremes of both liberal and conservative thought.

Greens say that liberals will be attracted by the party's pacifism and social justice rhetoric. Conservatives may be lured by the Greens' stance for local activism and against a powerful, centralized government.

So fiercely does the party oppose a strong national government that Green leaders say they'll never run a candidate for president.

Michigan's Green Party sympathizers span the traditional political spectrum -- from former state Democratic Party Chairman Zolton Ferency, who teaches criminal justice at Michigan State University, to conservative former Yale Mayor Mr. Fuller.

"I'm so deeply conservative that to some people it seems like liberalism," Mr. Fuller says. In his opinion, the Green Party "is really getting back to some of the better roots of American politics. It's neither left nor right but out in front."

Except at the polls.

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